A 15-ton lump of fat and wet wipes reduces sewer to 5 percent of normal capacity

Drain cleaning operators and municipal managers all have a story to tell about the out-of-the-ordinary objects recovered from pipelines and sewers, but what about removing a bus-sized lump of fat? 

That’s exactly what a Thames Water crew removed from a sewer last week in Surrey, England, about 30 miles south of London. The water utility serves 14 million customers and maintains 67 miles of sewers. 

The 15-ton lump of food fat and wet wipes has been dubbed the “fatberg” in a press release from the utility. It took three nights for an eight-man crew to clean up and remove the mound using shovels and waterjetting.   

Related: Cover Story: Battle of the Blockage

You’re all familiar with FOG blockages, but have you ever seen something like this? Check out the full release to see a photo of the fatberg: www.thameswater.co.uk/media/press-releases/17205.htm

“Given we’ve got the biggest sewers and this is the biggest fatberg we’ve encountered, we reckon it has to be the biggest such berg in British history,” says Gordon Hailwood, waste contracts supervisor at Thames Water in the release. 

Thames Water, England’s largest water and wastewater services provider, received word of the sewer blockage when nearby homeowners weren’t able to flush their toilets. The utility used a ROVVER pipeline inspection system from Envirosight to locate the obstruction. 

Related: Sewer: Leave It to the Experts

“CCTV investigations found the mound of fat had reduced the 70 x 48 cm sewer to just 5 percent of its normal capacity,” says the release.

The utility started repairs on the 65 feet of damaged pipe this week. Repairs are expected to take up to six weeks. If it hadn’t been caught, sewage could have backed up into homes, businesses and streets. In the release, Hailwood urges homeowners and businesses to recognize what they’re putting down drains so a blockage like the fatberg doesn’t reoccur. He stresses the importance of not flushing wet wipes — an ongoing concern in our nation’s sewers as well.

Tell us about the strangest object you’ve located or removed from a drain or sewer line. What's the most challenging issue you've encountered when cleaning a line? Post a comment below.

Related: “Facing Challenges as a Team” - Evansville, Indiana - December 2012 MSW Video Profile

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